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  • Stephanie Taylor / Special to The Bee

    Through the artist's lens: Russ Solomon is an artist coming full circle. His close-up photographs of people's faces reveal character, Stephanie Taylor says of the man who founded Tower Records and influenced popular culture. He is fascinated with people and what he sees reflected in their faces.

  • 'The Close Up,' Pencil on vellum by Stephanie Taylor

  • Stephanie Taylor

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California Sketches: Can you see the real me?

Published: Sunday, Jan. 22, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 3E
Last Modified: Saturday, Jun. 14, 2014 - 7:45 pm

Russ Solomon finds people fascinating. He's curious. Intuitively drawn to faces, he takes pictures to discover what is real. As he moves in closer, his camera records an image. A close-up of a face reveals character. This process of discovery defines Russ as an artist, and artistic expression often communicates as much about the artist as the subject.

Russ accepts imperfection in people. He's not interested in artifice. He appreciates the unadorned truth that a person has to offer, in himself, the arts, in friendship and in business. Sometimes a person might look beautiful, but his camera doesn't judge. Sometimes in a plain face inner beauty is unveiled. His accessibility and intense focus makes people feel valued and comfortable, and this characteristic informed his life in music as well.

At 86, Russ is aging gracefully and with vitality. He spent his career as a media and retail icon developing the image of artists in an open-minded culture where "no idea was too crazy." From an early age, he learned the value of small business and "a million tiny things that make up how a business works." He learned patience, how to deal with people, to give them what they want and not to fear rejection. I've come to Russ with endless questions because he knows so much. He's learned from his competitors and from his mistakes. For me, he's a bit of a sage.

Russ and his wife, Patti, collaborate in their studio. Inspired by other artists, he's constantly evolving and experimenting with his photography. While the process of shooting is revelation, printing is the technical challenge. He shoots and she prints, and together they search for a good photograph. When the heavy photo paper emerges from the printer, warm, he seems to find satisfaction in holding something he made in his hands. It's tangible. It's comforting.

He puts the print in a drawer and then picks up his camera to start the process all over again. Russ is an artist coming full circle, after an inspiring musical detour. Everything in between the start of his career and his photographic relationships today has been one long, fun process.

On a recent visit to their home in Sacramento I find Russ and Patti in their library, with floor-to-ceiling shelves of books, CDs and gorgeous art books. Russ is dressed in shorts and a tee with one foot crossed over a knee. The afternoon sun pours in behind him, lighting his white hair like a halo. He holds his camera casually in one hand and says, "What does the camera see? Everything."

On a coffee table rests a stack of 13-by-19-inch photos and on top, a photo of me. I am face to face with reality. Every mark of every earned year is telling my truth, caught in a moment, unaware. His photo makes me curious. Is that the real me?


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